South Lakes (Va.) 2021 forward Brianna Scott. [MARCUS HELTON]
SALISBURY, MD - When she was looking for a holiday tournament to put her South Lakes (Va.) girls squad in, head coach Christy Winters-Scott said she came across the Governor’s Challenge, which the South Lakes boys have been a part of in recent years.
“They said it was a co-ed tournament,” Winters-Scott said, “So I wanted to investigate for our team and I just thought it would be a good experience for the girls to come up here and compete against different people. And with the shot clock - we don’t have a shot clock - so it just presents different kind of challenges. I told them yesterday, ‘Hey, there’s a shot clock here and different kinds of rules, but we’re still here, and we’ve got to compete and we’ve got to execute.’”
The Seahawks did just that while posting a 2-0 record on their inaugural Eastern Shore trip, culminating in a 68-56 win over Medgar Evers (NY) to win the Bracket #1 Championship at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center on Tuesday.
The Seahawks downed Woodland Hills (Pa.) 61-58 in their opener on Monday, setting up the title meeting with Medgar Evers.
“I think it was a really good challenge for them, and kind of showed what our team had inside,” Winters-Scott said of her team. “So as a coach, you want to see that, and I think in these two games they really presented that in a good way. I just told them we have to carry that forward in our conference games coming up next week, and we can’t go back and say, ‘OK, now we’re back here, we’re going to play this way.’ No, we’re going to take what we did up here and carry that back with us and have that same kind of aggression and focus and composure, and I think those are the things that will help us win moving down the line. So it was a really good, competitive tournament.”
2021 forward Brianna Scott was one of the Seahawks’ standouts, posting 26 points and 10 rebounds against Woodland Hills and adding 24 points, 15 rebounds and 4 blocks against Medgar Evers.
“It went really well,” Scott said of her team’s Governor’s Challenge trip. “We learned a lot of things about our team and learned skills that we can carry on when we go to play in our district - we start that next week. So I feel like if we can carry on that intensity, then we can win and possibly get a net cut.”
In the title game on Tuesday, the Seahawks trailed only briefly, and capitalized on Medgar Evers’ foul trouble - they had two starters foul out - to go to work inside.
“They had some really strong post players in there,” Scott said of Medgar Evers, “but after they fouled out, we took it to them, because they didn’t have as much size. … “I thought the key today was taking care of the ball and making the extra pass, ’cause we were working on that in practice and stuff like that, and making that extra pass is just, like, essential to us being able to attack the basket.”
Nina Boffman had 19 points and Leila Sopeland 10 for South Lakes.
2020 guard Kaia Johnson had 22 points to lead Medgar Evers, while 2020 guard Kayla Williams had 11 and 2022 forward Jade Campbell finished with 10.
CRUSADERS CRUISE IN NIGHTCAP
National power Riverdale Baptist (Md.) is no stranger to hectic scheduling and tough opponents, and this week wasn’t any different.
The Crusaders made their lone Governor’s Challenge appearance on Thursday - their fourth game in five days - to face off against Frederick, the three-time defending Maryland 3A state champions.
“All these girls have aspirations to play on the next level,” Riverdale coach Mike Bozeman said, “so what we try to do is create the atmosphere that they’re going to see on the next level. So with that comes a lot of expectations, a lot of responsibility and commitment, and these girls want to play everybody. They say they want all the smoke, so that’s what we try to give them.”
The Crusaders rose to the challenge yet again, grabbing an early lead and never trailing en route to a 60-46 victory over the Cadets.
Boston College-bound 2020 guard Kaylah Ivey had 16 points to lead Riverdale, while 2020 guard Elizabeth Martino - a Rutgers signee - and 2021 center Kaylah Thomas had 12 points apiece 12 to close out the day at the WY&CC.
“We prepare in the offseason for [a tough schedule],” Ivey said. “A lot of games in one week isn’t new to us. It is a lot on our bodies, but we had to get the job done.”
The Crusaders jumped on the Cadets quickly, going ahead 23-7 after one quarter and 43-14 at the half. They were never seriously threatened, even as Frederick whittled the lead down in the second half.
“I think the key today was more so focusing on ourselves and executing plays, executing defense,” Martino said. “I feel like when we play top teams - not saying that they’re bad, but when we play against, like, No. 1 ranked teams or No. 2 ranked teams, we’re going to have to be able to execute because they’re going to have the same skill set, so I think that that’s what today was about.”
2021 forward Rose Bubakar had 15 points for Frederick, while 2020 guard Rhiana Hall had 10 points and 8 rebounds.
“[The key was] Just playing together, and especially on the defensive end getting stops,” Ivey said. “We started letting them come back, but we had to knuckle down,basically, and get the job done.”
CHURCHILL WINS OT THRILLER
Winston Churchill (Md.) 2021 forward Parker Hill made the biggest play of her team’s wild 53-51 overtime victory over Sanford (DE) - a game-winning basket with under 7 seconds remaining - but when asked to recall what had happened, she found herself at a loss.
“Honestly, I don’t remember it too well,” she said. “I just did my thing - I just didn’t think about it. I just went with, like, instinct and what I always do - I returned to my default - and it ended up working. It doesn’t always, but this time it did.”
Hill finished with 25 points and 8 rebounds for Churchill, while 2020 guard Brittini Martin and 2020 forward Leah Rubino had 8 points apiece.
On their final possession of the extra period, Hill caught a pass from 2020 guard Kaila Wilson between three defenders in the paint, turned - as a fourth defender converged - and banked in the winner off the glass. Sanford appeared to be confused on the ensuing possession and never got a final shot off as time expired.
“We had gone through just kind of like a general setup for Britt to drive, Parker to cut middle and then feed off of either of those options,” Churchill coach Kate Blanken said. “We like to try to at least have multi-options, so that you can react to the defense rather than just force one thing - she still caught it in a lot of traffic, so that was a great play at the end. That was fun; that was two really good teams playing.”
Hill’s final bucket capped a back and forth game that was tightly-contested throughout and featured 9 lead changes.
After Churchill lost its Governor’s Challenge opener on Monday in excruciating fashion - Frederick’s Yanniah Boyd hit the deciding free throw with 2.5 seconds remaining to down the Bulldogs, 44-43 - Blanken said she told her team to let it go and focus on Sanford Tuesday.
“Sanford’s an excellent team,” she said, “and we had said from the beginning that we’ve got to get in to Parker as much as possible - not just ’cause she’s Parker, but because No. 21 [Allorie] Kubek is just an excellent player and we needed her to be worked on both ends of the floor. So I think they listened to that, and we’ve struggled in a lot of games recently with our own foul trouble, so for Parker and Leah Rubino, that was something we’ve gone through - like, you have to just play solid, physical defense, but we can’t have you foul trouble, and they did an excellent job.”
Blanken also lauded the play of Martin, who she said logged heavy minutes - “We’re not used to playing back-to-back games” - and excelled while breaking the press and getting the Bulldogs into their offense.
Kubek had 19 points to lead the Warriors.
“Definitely knowing that we can play well against very, very good teams is definitely good,” Hill said, “because sometimes in our league we either have really tough games or pretty easy games, so it’s good to get new competition, for sure. And losing to a team by a little bit, and winning against a team by a little bit is good practice for close games and the playoffs, so it’s definitely good to have that experience now and not later in the season.”
BENNETT ACES TEST
JM Bennett (Md.) looked at Tuesday’s Bracket 4 title game against Largo (Md.) as a measuring stick game, with the Clippers - who lost in the Maryland 3A East regional final a year ago - eager to gauge themselves against a Lions squad that made the state 1A semifinals.
Bennet passed the test with flying colors, running away from Largo 79-55 to claim the Bracket #4 title.
“At the end of last year at the Governor’s Challenge, I knew we were going to have a pretty good team, and I wanted to be in a good bracket,” Bennett coach Darren Rogers said. “They put us with Largo, which was a Final Four team, and we were one game away from the state tournament. So getting games like this is going to help us when we get in our Bayside Conference and then for the state tournament.”
Bennett was led by its talented guard tandem of 2021 Mekara Hanson and Zy’Aire “Peanut” Smullen, who went for 26 and 23 points, respectively.
“It was real important,” Smullen said of the win, “because like [Coach] said, they were in the Final Four and we were one game short, so if we can beat them, we can get there.”
The Clippers opened strong, building a 25-12 lead after one quarter. They went up by as many as 20 points in the second quarter before Largo stormed back to trim the Bennett lead to 42-36 at the break.
Things didn’t stay close for long though, as Bennett put its foot back on the accelerator in the third quarter, outscoring Largo 22-6 to blow the game back open.
“We just knew that the next half we had to lock up on defense and not let up,” Smullen said.
2020 guard Ajah Kellam added 10 points for Bennett. 2021 guard Alexia Hackett had 19 points and 2020 guard Vanessa Schwarzmann 17 for Largo.
Parkside (Md.) 2022 guard Amanda Ballard. [MARCUS HELTON]
PARKSIDE OVERCOMES TALL ORDER
Parkside (Md.) 2022 guard Amanda Ballard was so preoccupied after her team’s win on Monday that she had no idea her Rams would be facing WT Woodson (Va.) in its second Governor’s Challenge game on Tuesday.
“We didn’t know who we were playing today, actually, because I had to run to the Skills Challenge afterwards. So we’re coming in and we don’t know who we’re playing - we’re sizing them up, of course; we’re looking at them like, ‘OK, they’ve got jumpsuits? OK, aww snap!’ But then when they came out they kind of startled us a little because of their height, because we haven’t faced a tall team. So I’m like, ‘OK , let’s get this ball moving to try to find openings, because they are all tall.”
While Woodson’s height did present issues early - “Going up, I was missing a bunch of lay-ups, because they are tall,” Ballard said - she and her teammates adjusted just fine, downing the Cavaliers 51-46 to take the Bracket #3 final.
Ballard had 23 points, while 2022 forward Jacqueline Wright had 12 points and 11 rebounds for Parkside.
Parkside coach Warren White said he was pleased with his team’s patience on offense late, which allowed them to move the ball and find open cutters on the backside against a Woodson team eager to get the ball back.
“I told them, ‘Don’t rush your shots,’” he said. “We got that lead with around 3 minutes [remaining] and we spread it out a little bit but we weren’t stalling. We’d move it - boom, boom - back around, and they’d follow and somebody from the backside would come around or flash to that middle, and we’d get fouled and go to the free throw line. The key was being a little more disciplined when we needed to be to pull out this victory.”
2022 guard Eunice Yoon had 15 points for WT Woodson, which also got 11 points and 10 rebounds from 2020 forward Maggie McGuire.
Ballard said she believes the title win would serve as a springboard for her Rams - and she thinks other area teams saw the same.
“I feel like we became stronger,” Ballard said. “Like, I saw opposing teams watching us, because they know we’re about to come back harder. This was a good win, but we still have stuff to work on, like little things that we can correct in practice. So I think we’ll be good.”
BOONSBORO HOLDS OFF WIHI
The Boonsboro (Md.) Warriors were just minutes away from clinching the Bracket 5 Championship, and the Wicomico (Md.) defense was seemingly coming at them from everywhere.
Boonsboro weathered the storm though, capably handling Wicomico’s pressure in the frenetic final stretch to pull out a 58-52 victory Tuesday morning
“[The mindset was] Just to keep hustling and make good passes,” Boonsboro 2020 guard Alli Leone said. “We had a bunch of bad passes, but we learned from that and just kept going with it.”
The Warriors did have a bit of trouble with WiHi’s defensive pressure throughout the game - they finished with 24 turnovers - but they were able to handle it when it counted.
“We just really did a great job, I thought, of handling their pressure,” Boonsboro coach Sam Connelly said. “I felt like if we could take care of the basketball then we would be fine and we’d be able to get open opportunities. We play in a really tough conference, so to be able to come down here and compete and have some success is great.”
Wicomico led 31-27 at the half, but Boonsboro outscored them 15-8 in the third quarter to take the lead, and held on for the title.
2023 guard Paige Smith had 14 points, Leone 13 and 2020 guard Madison Griffin 12 as the Warriors stymied a Wicomico rally to take the Bracket 5 championship.
2020 guard Leyanna Pettit had a game-high 26 points for Wicomico.
“It’s fun,” Leone said of her team’s Governor's Challenge trip. “It’s a lot different teams than what we play back home, and I think it really helps us and we always bond and get closer together. So it helps us going back into the season.”
Connelly agreed, adding he hopes this season's trip has an impact similar to the last one.
“The road trips and staying overnight is an excellent opportunity for them to bond and build into the second part of the season,” he said. “This is our second year coming down, and last year we were able to really step up after we played here. I love the tournament; it’s a great place.”